Yemen’s President `resists` calls to stand down

Ali Abdullah Saleh would abide by the Constitution in any transfer of power.

Sana’a: President Ali Abdullah Saleh said on Wednesday he would "resist" calls to resign and abide by the Constitution in any transfer of power, Yemen`s state news agency Saba reported.

Yemen`s opposition, meanwhile, called for mass protests following another round of deadly clashes with police, as talks appeared to have stalled between Gulf mediators and Saleh`s envoys.

"We will continue to resist (...) undaunted and committed to constitutional legitimacy, while rejecting the plots and coups," Saba quoted the embattled President as saying.

Addressing a women`s group in Sana’a, Saleh reiterated he would relinquish power only through elections.

"Let those who want to attain power rely on the ballot box. Change can only come about through elections and within the framework of constitutional legitimacy," said Saleh, whose term runs until 2013.

Saleh`s statement comes after members of the UN Security Council failed to come up with a joint statement on Yemen after adding the country`s crisis to their agenda for the first time.

Youth groups called for nationwide marches by millions of people in protest at the killing of protesters on Tuesday, stressing their rejection of any deal that excludes Saleh`s immediate departure.

Confrontations raged on between security forces and anti-Saleh protesters, with medics and witnesses reporting that eight people were shot dead since Tuesday, including a passer-by and a policeman.

One protester was killed when a gunman on a motorbike opened fire early on Wednesday at demonstrators staging a sit-in at Al-Nasr Square in the western Red Sea city of Hudaydah.

The assailant managed to escape after also wounding about eight other protesters, most of whom had been asleep.

Also on Wednesday, a policeman was shot dead during clashes between police and protesters in the main southern port city of Aden, while five demonstrators were shot dead in the capital Sana’a on Tuesday.

Foreign ministers of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) held talks on Tuesday with representatives of Saleh`s regime as part of efforts to hammer out a deal under which the veteran President would step down.

But the meeting in Abu Dhabi appeared to have made no significant progress.

A brief, vague statement issued afterwards referred to the talks as "constructive," vowing to "exert more effort to preserve security, stability and the unity of the Yemeni state”.

"During the meeting both sides exchanged opinions over the Gulf initiative," it said.

The spokesman of the Yemeni delegation, Ahmed bin Dagher, told reporters any solution should not violate the Constitution.

"We adhere to the Constitution which we cannot breach," he said, signalling that Saleh could serve out his term -- a position stated previously by his ruling party, the General People`s Congress.

Saba quoted him as saying that the Abu Dhabi talks "focused on ways to preserve the stability of Yemen while at the same time assuring a peaceful transfer of power."

But the spokesman told Al-Arabiya television that "no immediate solution has come out of the meeting."

The meeting followed talks in Riyadh on Sunday between foreign ministers of Yemen`s oil-rich Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) neighbours and representatives of the parliamentary opposition, who are adamant Saleh should step down immediately.

Saleh, who has been in power since 1978, has faced protests since late January calling for his departure that have cost more than 130 lives.

On April 10, the GCC -- Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates -- appealed to Saleh to "announce the transfer of his powers" to his deputy, Yemen`s vice president.

It also called for the formation in Yemen of "a government of national unity led by the opposition" which would be responsible for "establishing a constitution and organising elections”.

The opposition objected to the wording of the proposal, insisting on Saleh stepping down completely and not just handing over authority to his deputy.

Last week, Saleh`s office said in response to the GCC mediation bid that the President has "no reservation about transferring power peacefully and smoothly within the framework of the Constitution".

Saleh has so far insisted on overseeing any transition.

Meanwhile, a press statement on Yemen drawn up by Germany and Lebanon, both temporary members of the 15-nation UN Security Council, was blocked by a minority of states at a meeting in New York on Tuesday, diplomats said.

German envoy Peter Wittig said, however, that discussing Yemen in the council "sends an important signal by the international community: the negotiations should not stall and further bloodshed has to be avoided."

Bureau Report